50 Greatest Boy Band Songs of All Time – Rolling Stone
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50 Greatest Boy Band Songs of All Time

From the Monkees to 1D: pre-fab pop’s most scream-worthy songs

'N Sync, The Osmonds and Backstreet Boys


Irresistibly catchy, unapologetically inauthentic, sexy and they know it — the boy band is the most fabulously pre-fab of all musical outfits. From the scripted TV shenanigans of the Monkees to the surprisingly grown One Direction, as long as there are junior high school notebooks to deface, there will be outfits providing pop spectacle in its purist, least filtered form.

In deciding the right stuff for a list of the 50 greatest boy band songs, we had to exclude bands that weren’t sufficiently svengali’d (apologies to Hanson and 5 Seconds of Summer — you kept it too real) and avoided acts too close to the Motown vocal group tradition (Boyz II Men, All-4-One and even Color Me Badd just seemed too much like our old 45s). What remains is a plethora of sugary delights from Eighties malls, Nineties Total Request Live playlists, contemporary X-Factor seasons, our Korean pop future and more. Check out the list below, and click here to listen to a playlist of all the songs.

Mindless Behavior

John Ricard/Getty Images


Mindless Behavior, “My Girl” (2010)

The late-Aughts boy band resurgence lacked its own New Edition until a clutch of Los Angeles-based producers put together Mindless Behavior, a singing and rapping foursome that wound up opening for Janet Jackson's 2011 greatest hits tour. "My Girl" makes it easy to see why Jackson looked upon the group fondly: Lead vocalist Prodigy (who's since departed the group) sings about love in the age of smartphones with the guilelessness of her brother Michael, sweetly noting that "140 characters is more than enough" over a glitchy beat that recalls the ringtones of old — or at least of the B2K era.


LONDON - SEPTEMBER 27: (L-R) Richard Abs Breen, Richie Neville, Scott Robinson and Jason Brown of British boyband 5ive announce reforming at the Carling Academy, Islington on September 27, 2006 in London, England. (Photo by Jo Hale/Getty Images)

Jo Hale/Getty Images


5ive, “When The Lights Go Out” (1998)

London's 5ive were the workhorses of the late Nineties boyband glut, churning out eleven U.K. Top 10 hits with a higher banger-to-ballad quotient than their main competitors, the Backstreet Boys. Ritchie, Scott, J, Abz and Sean were put together after auditioning for Bob Herbert. Herbert had masterminded and nurtured the Spice Girls only for them to ditch him for future American Idol creator Simon Fuller, so he made sure the members of 5ive signed binding contracts — Bob died in 1999 and his son Chris managed the band until their split in 2001. "When The Lights Go Out" was a global hit, aping the Cheiron Studios sound of "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" right down to the spooky haunted house FX. Subsequently Abz Love had the most solo success and recently put his Brit Award on eBay to help fund his latest venture as the owner of a small farm. 

Dino, Desi & Billy

UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Photo of Dino, Desi and Billy Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


Dino, Desi & Billy, “I’m a Fool” (1965)

In mid-Sixties L.A. pop, nepotism was a big deal: This supergroup of celebrity offspring appeared only months after Gary Lewis, the teenage son of Jerry Lewis, and his band the Playboys topped the charts. Dino, Desi & Billy were the 13-year-old son of Dean Martin, the 12-year-old son of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, and their 13-year-old classmate Billy Hinsche. Together, they scored with this slick but swingin’ approximation of garage rock. Released on Reprise Records, Dean Martin’s label founded by his buddy Frank Sinatra, “I’m a Fool” reached Number 17 on the Hot 100 in 1965. The follow-up, “Not the Lovin’ Kind,” got to Number 25, but none of the multi-ethnic trio’s many subsequent singles and albums — instrumentally enabled by session pros — reached the Top 40, despite the trio’s famous family and friends. Among them was none other than the Beach Boys: DD&B often opened for them in concert and Hinsche subsequently augmented them on tour and on record.

East 17

Tim Roney/Getty Image


East 17, “House of Love” (1992)

The Stones to Take That's Beatles, these four Walthamstow boys were tough as nails and looked like they hadn't slept in weeks. Their debut, "House of Love," is a typical example of their output: maximalist, fast-paced and topped with rousing messages of love and unity. Songwriter/rapper Tony Mortimer told M magazine he "put the band together based on New Kids on the Block," though East 17 had a closer musical lineage to the stadium house of the KLF. Mortimer wrote "House of Love" as an ironic take on the rave scene's increasing commercialization, but it's hard to see too much cynicism in lines like "We got to stop the pain and put the wars on hold." This utopia unfortunately dissolved in 1997 when lead singer Brian Harvey was sacked for bragging about his casual ecstasy use ("like having a cup of tea"). Mortimer then left citing exhaustion and Harvey later infamously ran himself over with his own car, claiming he had eaten "too many jacket potatoes."


LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 22: (UK TABLOID NEWSPAPERS OUT) Marvin Humes, Aston Merrygold, Oritse Williams and JB Gill of JLS pose for a portrait to announce the band is splitting up on April 22, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

Dave Hogan/Getty Images


JLS, “Beat Again” (2009)

Arriving better polished and more formed compared to most of their X-Factor peers, Marvin, Oritsé, Aston and JB of JLS pumped some much-needed credibility into the sickly veins of the post-millennial U.K. boy band scene. Their smooth vocals and slick choreography suited R&B throbbers better than stool-based ballads, and their Hex Hector/Mac Quayle-penned debut single, "Beat Again," jumpstarted a respectable run of eight consecutive Top Ten singles. The cardiac arrest metaphor could have been artery-thickeningly cheesy in the wrong hands, but JLS deadpanned lines like "If I died/Would you come to my funeral/Would you cry?"


B2K feat. P. Diddy, “Bump, Bump, Bump” (2002)

In the early Aughts, no one had moves like B2K. "Some artists get so big that they stop dancing," group member Raz-B said at the time. "But we totally respect 'N Sync because they're still dancing." The foursome had a handful of hits, but none were quite as danceable as the self-descriptive "Bump, Bump, Bump." Written and produced by R. Kelly, then given the Puffy seal of approval, the song combines two boy-band classics: slightly scandalous puppy love and reference to quickly outdated technology. Chirp us, Omarion! 


SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JULY 01: KAT-TUN attend the 'World Big Tour 2010 in Seoul' press conference at Times Square on July 1, 2010 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Ten Asia/Multi-Bits via Getty Images)

Ten Asia/Multi-Bits via Getty Images


Kat-Tun, “Real Face” (2006)

The debut single for the six member Japanese boy band Kat-Tun was an out-of-the-gate success, owning the domestic charts and creating a frenzy that has yet to be matched for an act’s inaugural release. The schizophrenic tune, which jumps from four-on-the-floor dance beats to a heavy metal churn, began the J-pop band’s non-stop string of Number One hits — a tradition that’s kept the outfit an annual chart-topping success for nearly 10 years in spite of two members departing.


UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: Photo of OSMONDS (Photo by John Rodgers/Redferns)

John Rodgers/Redferns


The Osmonds, “Crazy Horses” (1972)

After multiple Jackson 5-esque hits ignited Osmondmania throughout much of the world, the quintet flipped the script with 1972's frenzied Crazy Horses, an LP written entirely by the band. R&B strains remained on the title track — dig those crazy horn blasts — but the foundation is unrepentant hard rock made even more extreme by a keyboard scream approximating the whinnying of a horse. If that wasn't radical enough, the lyrics decried vehicular pollution: "What a show, there they go/Smokin' up the sky." It was a testimony to the band's popularity — then buoyed by Donny's sappy solo jams — that "Crazy Horses" matched the Number 14 chart placement of the album's blisteringly funky "Hold Her Tight." In England, where glam-rockers Slade topped the charts with a kindred heavy/catchy sound, this not-at-all boy-band-like record went all the way to Number Two.


SEOUL, CHINA - MARCH 21: (CHINA MAINLAND OUT) INFINITE at press conference of their 4th album on Thursday March 21, 2013 in Seoul, Korea. (Photo by TPG/Getty Images)

TPG/Getty Images


Infinite, “The Chaser” (2012)

Not only a crown jewel in the discography of famously in-sync K-pop septet Infinite, but "The Chaser" is also the masterpiece of Sweetune, the production duo renown for giving the genre a retro kick. Opening with a waterfall of Eighties synths, "The Chaser" brought their dramatic, synth-pop sound to an emotional apex via this unforgiving blend of trumpet blasts and dynamic guitar licks answering the boys' heartfelt belts.

Backstreet Boys

MIAMI BEACH, FL - APRIL 1997:The Backstreet Boys (L - R) Kevin Richardson, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell, AJ McLean and Nick Carter pose for an April 1997 portrait in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by Bob Berg/Getty Images)

Bob Berg/Getty Images


Backstreet Boys, “The Call” (2001)

It might not be the only pop song to use bad cell reception as a narrative hinge (shout out to Lady Gaga and Beck), but "The Call" is certainly one of the earliest — it was recorded in the days of monophonic ringtones and Snake. This Max Martin co-write from the Backstreet Boys' Black & Blue only reached Number 52 on the Hot 100, and its tale of infidelity was a marked shift from the group's more besotted offerings. However both versions — the sweeping synth original and the restrained Neptunes remix —include a last-verse key change that gives "The Call" a shot of just-before-hanging-up tension.

New Kids on the Block

UNITED STATES - MAY 12: Photo of NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK and Jonathan KNIGHT and Donnie WAHLBERG and Jordan KNIGHT and Joey McINTYRE and Danny WOOD; Posed group portrait L-R Donnie Wahlberg, Jonathan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Danny Wood and Jordan Knight (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

Ebet Roberts/Redferns


New Kids on the Block, “Hangin’ Tough” (1989)

New Kids on the Block were the pop force to be reckoned with during 1989, but they didn't reach the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 until September. The spare title track to their second album, the many-times-platinum Hangin' Tough, was part statement of intent and part stadium-ready chant; it reached the top of the Hot 100 the same week as its parent album, solidifying the New Kids' dominance. It's still one of NKOTB's live staples, with the "whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh" chorus overpowering the giggle-worthiness of that line about "put[ting] you in a trance with a funky song."

N Sync

American boy band 'N Sync, circa 2000. From left to right, they are Lance Bass, JC Chasez, Justin Timberlake, Chris Kirkpatrick and Joey Fatone. (Photo by Tim Roney/Getty Images)

Tim Roney/Getty Images


‘N Sync, “Pop” (2001)

"Pop" is an earworm of a pop tune about how there's nothing wrong with pop tunes — "The thing you got to realize/What we're doing is not a trend/We got the gift of melody/We gonna bring it 'til the end" — a perfect middle finger to anyone dismissing boy bands. Future-minded trance producer BT was one of them: "Believe me, I thought about 'N Sync what a lot of people that aren't 14 years old and female think about 'N Sync. Not that I hated them, it was ambivalence. I just didn't care," he told MTV. However after JC Chavez started showing up at his shows, they became fast friends — so much that 'N Sync trusted him to tweak their vocals into glitching, stuttering, malfunctioning avant-funk. Said BT, who labored for two weeks on the vocal effects, "Everyone we've played it for is like, 'This is so crazy that it might just be amazing.'"

The Wanted

BERLIN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 13: (EDITORS NOTE: This Image is for editorial use only in the following Countries - Germany/Austria/Switzerland)(clockwise from L-R) Tom Parker, Siva Kaneswaren, Jay McGuinness, Nathan Sykes and Max George of The Wanted pose during a portrait session on February 13, 2011 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

Andreas Rentz/Getty Images


The Wanted, “Glad You Came” (2011)

The Wanted didn't quite reach the saturation point of contemporaries One Direction, but the Eurodance hit "Glad You Came" makes a good case for the reasons they could have. They were a little edgier and made boy band songs cool for the club with a willingness to embrace a sexual innuendo when needed. "Glad You Came" was their biggest single, but three albums and one reality show — The Wanted Life — later, the band has decided to go on hiatus as the members pursue solo careers.

98 Degrees

Justin Jeffre, Nick Lachey, Drew Lachey and Jeff Timmons of 98 Degrees (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc


98 Degrees, “Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)” (2000)

The Nick Lachey-led 98 Degrees always had a rough time keeping up with the spotlight-stealing Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync. But the Gerry and the Pacemakers of the last great boy band epoch saw them have a breakthrough with "Give Me Just One Night," the group's biggest hit. On it, the boys moved away from the straightforward pop-R&B that the bigger boy bands had already locked down and flirted with Latin pop, something Justin Timberlake would eventually do on his debut solo LP. Unfortunately, just as 98 Degrees started to heat up, the group decided to cool it, going on hiatus to explore solo careers and reality television before reuniting in 2012.

Seo Taiji & Boys

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - OCTOBER 20: Seo Tai-Ji attends his 9th album "Quiet Night" press conference at Grand Intercontinental on October 20, 2014 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by ilgan Sports/Multi-Bits via Getty Images)

ilgan Sports/Multi-Bits via Getty Images)


Seo Taiji and Boys, “Nan Arayo (I Know)” (1992)

Seo Taiji and Boys are credited for helming the shiny, explosive, fabulously pre-fab Korean pop scene that we know today, kicking everything off with their game-changing 1992 debut single, "Nan Arayo (I Know)." The track blended then-trendy American new jack swing with Korean lyrics to tremendous success, spawning a wave of similarly sounding boy bands and girl groups and establishing the scene's still-strong affection for multi-member outfits as opposed to solo acts.

Another Bad Creation

Motown Records


Another Bad Creation, “Iesha” (1990)

New Edition's Michael Bivins graduated from boy-band star to boy-band impresario when he discovered the Atlanta-based preteen quintet Another Bad Creation. "Iesha," the group's debut single, told the story of a playground attraction that turned into a Nintendo-and-cereal date. A pumping new jack swing beat, an awesomely meta sample of "Cool It Now" from Bivins' old band and an in-song moment of hype from Biv himself work alongside boastful raps and sugar-spun chorus.


LFO at the Macy's in New York, New York (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

Kevin Mazur/WireImage


LFO, “Summer Girls” (1999)

One of the biggest boy band accidents occurred with the massive success of "Summer Girls" by LFO, a.k.a. Lyte Funkie Ones. The song sounds like an Adam Sandler parody of pop hits: a bunch of nonsensical phrases strung together with only Abercrombie & Fitch as its through-line. "'Summer Girls' was all about a summer on the cape," now-deceased member Rich Cronin revealed of the song's origins back in 2005. "Inside jokes. I never thought that anyone besides my close friends would ever hear it." The silly single hit the Top 10 on the Billboard charts and led their debut album to double-platinum status. Though they didn't get the chance to "have a bunch of hits" like New Kids on the Block, "Summer Girls" is still one of the quirkiest flukes in the genre's history.